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Ron Judd's Olympics Insider

Ron Judd, an Olympics junkie and Seattle Times columnist who has covered Olympic sports since 1997, will use this space to serve up news and opinion on the Summer and Winter Games -- also inviting you to chime in on Planet Earth's biggest get-together.

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August 15, 2008 9:12 PM

Friday night LIVE: NBC's Phelps coverage; Canada medals!!!

Posted by Ron Judd

East Coast sign-off, with some observations on network coverage:

NBC ends with a split-screen interview by Costas with Phelps and Mark Spitz. Many, many, many, congratulations all around.

Costas asks: If the two of you could race, head to head, both at prime, who would win? Spitz rambles about great athletes finding ways to beat their opponents, then says: "Right now, we'd probably tie."

He is immediately sent to doping control.

On CBC: A quick, but very informative interview with Phelps' coach, Bob Bowman, the guy who knows Phelps' swimming better than Phelps himself, and is obviously still emotional from the race before leaving the building. He gives an interesting, behind-the-scenes summary of Phelps' performance this week. Emjay observes: "Half as long and twice as revealing" as what's on NBC at the same time.

Example: Bowman, who outlined his history with Phelps and discussed their unusually long (10-year) coach/athlete relationship, says any coach's job is to nitpick. He admits he did plenty of that in Athens, in spite of the fact that Phelps was winning six gold medals.

What has he nitpicked in these Games so far?

"Absolutely nothing."

Bowman says he thought Phelps had lost the race tonight. But after the result and the replays, he has no doubt about the accuracy of the timing boards.

He also says he now has no doubt Phelps now qualifies as the greatest Olympian ever. But he throws a reality check at the common perception that he sat down with Phelps and his mother 10 years ago and mapped all this out, to a T. Clearly, nobody knew then what Phelps would develop into, he said, suggesting his master plan was more of a general career path.

There was more. Most of it has been said before to print reporters, but I doubt national TV audiences have ever heard from Bob Bowman, who truly is the brains behind Phelps' moment-to-moment itinerary in Beijing.

I don't like to pick on NBC just to pick on NBC. And it's true that Phelps is THE story this week. Getting him and Spitz on screen is an obvious choice. But how about getting some fresh insight from somebody else, just for once? His coach is an obvious choice.

We've already heard from Phelps a dozen times this week, including right after his race tonight. How many more times do we need to hear he's at a loss for words? No knock on him, but he's said what he's going to say. How many times can the poor guy be asked to say it in one week?

And Spitz, as it turned out, added very little of interest, other than the fact that his ego is still sufficient to believe he could find a way to beat Phelps if both raced at their primes. (Compare their actual Olympic swim times: Phelps swam the 200 free an astonishing 9.8 seconds faster.)

CBC, with less pull but a more-informed poolside reporter (Update: It was Elliotte Friedman), picked up some table scraps, grabbing Bowman before he left, and offered up a lot more insight with a lot less fanfare. It's a good example of a network operating more as a journalistic enterprise than a morning chat show.


Wrestler Carol Huynh of Canada has just secured Maple Leaf Nation's first medal by winning her semifinal bout 4-0. She'll wrestle for the gold, but is guaranteed at least a silver, later today in Beijing.

Our humantarian effort, outlined in a post below, will continue unabated.

Back to swimming:
Women's 50 free semi
Dara Torres leads start to finish in her heat, swimming 24.27. Cate Campbell of Australia, 25 years her junior, is seeded second at 24.42.

As Phelps takes the medal stand, NBC reports that Cavic's coach is filing an official protest over the finish. That coach would be The Race Club's Mike Bottom, who was just recently hired by Michigan to replace Bob Bowman, who is going back to Baltimore to train Phelps. Bottom is asserting that the touch pad in Cavic's lane had malfunctioned.

FINA, the swim federation, refuses to hear the protest, based on overhead photos of the finish. (My take: I seriously doubt the touch pad malfunctioned. On the other hand: FIMA saying the overhead still cams can see through all that froth above Cavic's hands -- which are at least 4 inches underwater -- is crazy. But, there you go.)
Sunday a.m. update: Cavic later says it was the Serbian delegation, not Bottom, who filed the protest.

Phelps, quoted by CBC from the mix zone. "When I took that extra half-stroke, I thought I'd lost the race." Phelps said before the race, Bowman had told him it might be "good for him" if he lost, which got him fired up.

Dan Hicks: "You need a little bit of luck like that from time to time."

Men's 50 freestyle
Cesar Cielo Filho of Brazil by way of Auburn University wins in 21.30. Silver to Amaury Levaux of France, bronze to Alain Bernard of France. Ben WIldman-Tobriner of the U.S. is fifth. World record holder Eamon Sullivan of Australia is sixth. It's the first-ever U.S. shutout in the event.

Men's 100 butterfly
Gary Hall Jr.. -- see post below -- was this () close to being a genius. Michael Phelps, staging a furious comeback after trailing in seventh at the turn, beats Milorad "Mike" Cavic of Slovenia Serbia by .01. A replay shows Cavic, a full stroke ahead as the two reached the wall, actually appearing to touch in ahead of Phelps, but the computer gives Phelps, who took a furious half-stroke to punch the wall, the win.

Without the aid of electronic timing to hundredths of a second, this is a virtual tie. Amazing.

The winning time, 50.58, is short of the WR. In third is Andrew Lauterstein of Australia, who nudged Ian Crocker of the U.S. by .01, as well.

Women's 800 freestle final
Rebecca Adlington of Great Britain takes down, finally, Janet Evans' 1989 world record, swimming 8:14.10 to take the gold.

Women's 200 backstroke final
Kirsty Coventry of Zimbabwe breaks her own world record, swimming 2:05.24, to nudge out King Aquatic swimmer Margaret Hoelzer, who swims 2:06.23. Reiko Nakamura of Japan is third at 2:07.13.
On CBC, Jamaica's Asafa Powell, literally cruising the last 50 meters of his 100m prelim heat, runs a 10.02 and advances along with America's Walter Dix to the semis.

Ron McLean notes: "Obviously, sprinting in Jamaica is like hockey in Canada."
NBC is back to its televised pacifier, beach volleyball. We're going out for ice cream.

But first, an update on America's sport of the future ... team handball!

USA Today's Mike Lopresti, inspired by either A) boredom or B) the growing fervor out here in the Disadvantaged Time Zone to form a team, form a league, and conquer the planet, sought out a team handball game in Beijing yesterday.

He took in Denmark vs. Russia, and, like any sane person, concluded that team handball is a perfect sport for America.

Lopresti asks Denmark coach Ulrik Wilbek if the sport could spread through the U.S.

"There's absolutely no reason," Wilbek said. "It's entertaining, it's confrontational. It's like indoor American football. I don't understand why."

Neither do we.
Track and field

NBC is switching to last night's 1,500 meter prelims, with Bernard Lagat. Lagat runs 3:41.98, finishing fourth. Top five advance. He was boxed in a couple times, in seventh at start of the bell lap, and had to struggle to get into the finishing group. In the second group, America's opening ceremony flag bearer, Lopez Lomong, finishes fifth to advance.
Bob Costas introduces a recap of last night's women's gymnastics competition by explaining that it "ran well past midnight on the East Coast."

Uh, hello. It ran well past midnight on the West Coast, too -- three hours after the fact -- thanks to geniuses at the NBC Universal home offices.

Note to Bob C.: West Coast: Seattle, Los Angeles, Portland, San Diego, San Francisco. Shamu the Killer Whale. Salmon. Coffee. The Pacific Ocean. Hollywood. Microsoft. Boeing, sorry, scratch that. Big Sur. Big trees. Moss. Banana slugs. Bad traffic. You know us. You've been here. Right? Bob? Bob?
Ambrose "Rowdy" Gaines is discussing something we've just conversed with an editor about: The possibility, if there is one, that Michael Phelps would NOT swim in tomorrow night's 400 medley relay final. Bottom line: Not likely. But there is one scenario: If Phelps lost tonight in the 100 free final to Ian Crocker, the spot on the relay final would rightfully belong to Crocker.

However: Recall that Phelps, as a gift, stepped aside to let Crocker have the final-swim spot in the same race four years ago in Athens. It was perceived as a major favor, but, then again, Phelps had swum in the prelims, and already was guaranteed the medal. The same scenario would apply here: Crocker swam in the prelims and will medal either way. What are odds he would stand in Phelps' way? You be the judge.

At the same time, a loss by Phelps tonight would sort of take most of the air out of that eighth-race balloon, anyway. It's conceivable: Crocker and the Human Torso have run this race head to head in four major events in the past four years. And they're 2-2.

The 100 free final is set for 7:10 p.m., DTZ, tonight. That means that once again, you will not see it live here on NBC.
We open tonight's festivities with a near-catastrophe in track and field, where shotputter Dylan Armstrong -- who clearly did not get the memo -- was flirting with ruining Canada's spotless, medal-free record.

CBC has just showed us the competition, where Armstrong, at the last minute, kept despair alive by coming up short -- by one centimeter -- on his final throw to finish fourth.

Interviewed afterward, he's asked if he's disappointed:

"I'm more than happy with the national record."

That's the spirit.

Here comes NBC's east coast version of reality, opening with a sweeping helicopter shot of the National Stadium, AKA The Bedpan, heralding the beginning of network track coverage.

Stay tuned.

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